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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Problems With Iraq, Weapons Persist
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Paul Kerr

The United States has lost track of thousands of weapons provided to Iraqi troops, according to an Oct. 28 report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). Several days later, the office of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte suspended public access to a website containing information from captured Iraqi documents apparently relevant to building unconventional weapons.

The report is the result of an audit of “the type, quantity, and quality” of weapons purchased for the Iraqi Security Forces by the U.S. Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF). The audit was conducted at the request of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) and came well more than three years after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

According to the report, approximately 370,000 weapons costing about $133 million have been purchased with IRRF funds since November 2003. Twelve types of small arms were purchased, including machine guns, grenade launchers, and assault rifles.

The Multi-National Security Force Transition Command-Iraq could not account for 751 assault rifles, 13,180 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, and 99 machine guns, the report says, posing concerns about the “physical security” of the weapons.

Moreover, the United States may not be able to keep track of the remaining weapons because the command failed to register their serial numbers. Approximately 10,000 weapons, or less than 3 percent of the total provided, were registered, according to the report.

Although the command has said it will take steps to remedy the situation, the report argues that those efforts are inadequate.

For example, the command’s response to the report says that it has developed a system “to maintain accountability” of the weapons. However, SIGIR criticized this procedure, arguing that it is inadequate because the weapons are not registered until after they arrive in Iraq and are distributed to the Iraqi forces. “Without first determining how many weapons were in fact purchased and received…there is no assurance full accountability is established for all weapons,” the report says.

Additionally, the command rejected the report’s recommendation that it register serial numbers with the Department of Defense’s Small Arms Serialization Program, stating that it is meeting “the intent” of the report’s recommendation by establishing its own registry. However, the report states that the command is required to register the weapons with the program.

Sensitive Iraqi WMD Information Leaked

Meanwhile, concerns arose in November that Negroponte’s office may have posted information relevant to developing unconventional weapons.

The director of public affairs for the DNI, Chad Kolton, said in a Nov. 2 statement that the office has “suspended access to a web site containing captured Saddam [Hussein-]era Iraqi documents pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing.” The office will review the material “before the site becomes available again,” he added.

This action followed a New York Times report that the documents contained information that could potentially assist the efforts of other states or nonstate actors to develop nuclear weapons. An IAEA official told Arms Control Today Nov. 22 that agency inspectors “had expressed concern internally about the site,” but the agency had not yet warned the United States before the Times article was published.

This is not the first time that the office has removed documents from the site in response to proliferation concerns. Demetrius Perricos, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), expressed concern to U.S. officials in April about a document that contained information about Iraq’s chemical weapons program.

Asked about the Times article, UNMOVIC spokesperson Ewen Buchanan said in a Nov. 21 interview that the file “contains various ‘recipes’ and ‘cookbooks’ [for making chemical weapons] which we thought should not be made public,” adding that it was removed about a week later.

The document was the same as one that Iraq had provided UNMOVIC in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The DNI’s office had begun releasing the documents March 16. At the time, Negroponte cautioned that the government “has made no determination regarding” the documents’ accuracy or authenticity. (See ACT, April 2006.)

The documents were posted at the urging of several legislators, including House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Hoekstra has said that there are unanswered questions about the fate of Iraq’s illicit weapons.

Several official studies have concluded that Iraq did not have illicit weapons. No official evidence has emerged that information contained in the documents contradicts those findings.